According to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), in its article Credit-for-creationism scheme unconstitutional?, the new creationist legislation being introduced into the Alabama House is probably unconstitutional. Incredibly scandalous news.
As discussed yesterday, Alabama is trying to pass legislation that would “authorize local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students.” In the landmark Supreme Court 1948 ruling, McCollum v. Board of Education, the court struck down a Illinois release time program as unconstitutional because of the public school system’s involement in the administration, organization and support of religious instruction classes.
According to a constitutional scholar, Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia:
“…the state should not be granting credit for instruction in religion, either from a believing perspective or from a non-believing perspective. The only state credit for religion courses should be objective study of what each of the great religions does or teaches.” It would be problematic for schools to offer credit for released time religious instruction, he explained: “We don’t want the government telling churches how to provide the religious instruction. … There’d be an entanglement problem with the school trying to regulate these courses, trying to tell the churches what kind of religion course they can offer.”
Utah allows LDS (Mormon) students to have “released time”, so that they may attend a religious seminary (almost always built next to the high school). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a very strict supporter of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, states that the Utah system is constitutional because it meets some very strict tests:
- Written permission from parents;
- Class times can not conflict with required school classes;
- Registration is separate from regular school;
- Credits do not count toward graduation requirements and grades cannot be included in official school records or transcripts;
- Classes cannot be held in public school facilities;
- Seminary teachers cannot be members of the public school faculty or participate in public school functions;
- No public funds or public school equipment can be used for religious instruction or promotion of seminary events;
- Attending seminary is voluntary and public schools cannot encourage students to attend or punish them when they don’t;
- Release time must be provided for students wishing to participate in religious instruction other than seminary.
Alabama has no shot at implementing this law. I’m sure the ACLU or secular parents throughout Alabama will sue. Eventually one Federal Court or another will rule on it’s unconstitutionality, the state will have to reimburse the legal costs of everyone involved, and there goes money for real education. Of course, that’s money that would simply be wasted otherwise, since Alabama’s public education ranks at the very bottom of almost any parameter of education.
According to the NCSE in an article published today, background on the credit-for-creationism scheme, the legislature is inspired by a teacher fired 30 years ago for attempting to teach from the bible in a public school. This story keeps getting better.